Fulham 2 Hamburg 1 (aggregate 2-1)

The Fulham Europea League juggernaut rolled on – inexorably – to the final in Hamburg on May 12 as Roy Hodgson’s men came from behind to secure yet another famous victory on a memorable night at Craven Cottage.

They will play Atletico Madrid after the Spanish side’s 2-1 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield saw them progress on away goals.

Prostrate Hamburg players on the pitch as the home team revelled in the post-match celebrations told the story, as did the glum faces of disbelieving travelling fans outside the ground.

“Can we have your tickets to the final?” Fulham fans cheekily asked the stunned contingent, who – but for the vigilant stewards ensuring segregation – may have obliged, given they had expected nothing less than a place in the showpiece in their own HSH Nordbank Arena.

Ruud Van Nistelrooy, the former Manchester United striker who now plies his trade for the north German team, had declared before kick-off that not qualifying for the final would be a disaster for his side, and the immediate reaction of his team-mates did little to dispel that sentiment.

For Fulham supporters, however, there was sheer delight on yet another defining evening by the Thames in this most unbelievable of seasons.

It had seemed a very remote possibly as the match ticked past the hour mark with Hamburg leading 1-0 through Mladen Petric’s superb 20th-minute free-kick from 30 yards after Danny Murphy’s foul on Jose Ze Roberto.

Hodgon’s side were showing signs of fatigue 59 matches into a long campaign, with the visitors’ Czech captain David Jarolim pulling the strings in midfield.

Bobby Zamora, Fulham’s leading scorer in the competition this season with eight goals, had a pain-killing injection in his troublesome Achilles prior to kick-off and, after an ineffectual 58 minutes, hobbled off to be replaced by Clint Dempsey.

The American immediately began stretching the Hamburg defence, and it was his movement that created space for Simon Davies’ run from midfield 11 minutes later.

Danny Murphy’s chipped pass was precise but there was still much for the Welshman to do, getting the better of Guy Demel to plant his shot past Hamburg keeper Frank Rost.

Suddenly, there was belief and energy about Fulham, who knew the German’s away goal meant they needed to score again to progress.

The crowd raised the volume as well, appreciating the adventure of Hodgson as he replaced full-back John Pantsil with striker Erik Nevland with 16 minutes to play.

It proved a masterstroke from a masterful manager as the Norwegian won a corner almost immediately, curled to the far-post by Davies.

It was played back towards goal where Zoltan Gera, often Zamora’s foil in this European run, took a touch on the turn and flicked the ball past despairing defenders into the net from close range.

Hamburg, who in truth were their own worst enemies by time-wasting practically from the start of the second half, ploughed forward in growing desperation but, apart from one dangerous ball across goal from the otherwise anonymous Van Nistelrooy, they had little joy from Mark Schwarzer, Brede Hangeland and co.

In fact, Fulham went closest to scoring again. As Rost pushed forward in the dying seconds, Gera won the ball and found Dempsey, who was taken out crudely by the back-tracking keeper.

It could have been a sending-off but it hardly mattered, as the hosts wound down the clock and the crowd erupted at the final whistle.

There were some concerns for Fulham. With a half-fit Zamora they lacked punch up front, Hamburg winger Jonathan Pitroipa was a constant menace down the left and, at times, Murphy and Davies were overrun in midfield.

But the side’s spirit and Hodgson’s man-management of limited resources have seen them through to a European final for the first time in the club’s history.

They remain the last British team standing in Europe this season and who would have seen that coming on a warm July day in Lithuania?

Fulham: Schwarzer, Pantsil (Nevland 74), Hangeland, Hughes, Konchesky, Davies, Murphy, Etuhu, Duff, Gera, Zamora (Dempsey 56). Subs: Zuberbuhler, Riise, Smalling, Greening, Dikgacoi

Attendance: 23,705